the Art of Helping Others

We are in the midst of severe weather conditions here in Chicago. School systems and businesses are closed and have remained closed for two days – pretty unusual for a city that is used to intense winters. I’ve noticed that when the weather is especially bad, people tend to reach out to each other. We look at each other more when walking down the street. People will say things to each other like, “be careful out there”, and “stay warm”.

These days, there is the added piece that allows folks to send warm wishes across wide geographical locations via text messaging and Facebook. Friends, family, and colleagues from Washington State to Cape Cod, Massachusetts have been texting and leaving wall posts and e-mails expressing concern; reaching out.

And it is a help, just to know people care.

A colleague of mine, in social work, recommended a book which I am now in the middle of reading called “The Art of Helping Others: Being around, being there, being wise” by Heather Smith and Mark K. Smith. It’s been interesting to read something that is not specifically targeting an early childhood audience; rather refreshing actually. It has brought a new perspective to the way I think of my own role as a teacher of adult students and perhaps how I think of my students’ role as they prepare to work with young children and their families.

I’ve never really thought about it in these terms before, but aren’t we a “helping” field? Don’t we try to teach young children to help each other? Don’t we try to instill in adult students the need to work together and help each other? I feel like the strongest groups I have in class are the groups that take on the role of helping their colleagues. To me, this is a good sign for their future as professionals in the field.

I’ll share one piece with you from the book. In the passage below, the author is describing what he observed in a Native American elementary school in Minneapolis that had a resident wise woman who was available to talk with the children each day.

“…her ability to reflect as she listens and talks is one of the reasons why she was able to be with the children in the way she was. This giving of respect to the thoughts, feelings, and words of others both meant they experienced being valued, and gave space to entertaining and exploring concerns” (p. 63).

If I can create such a learning environment that fosters respect for people’s thoughts, feelings, and words, perhaps it would model the level of caring I hope my students will bring to their work with young children and their families.

Thanks Mike for the book recommendation! It’s been a treat.

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